A recent Photograph

“ Can you feel it mom?”

“ Yes, sweet heart, I can feel your hug. Thank you beta.”

“ I will call you again at the end of next week. And mom, please make sure not to go outside.Not even to uncle’s house. Instead, call all our relatives and talk to them on the phone. We have so many family members that a month will not be enough!” Anika says.

“ Read some magazines or reread some of your favorite books. Okay mom, bye, take care.”

“ I will.Bye beta,take care.”

Anika logs out from her Zoom call and closes her laptop. As the corona virus made its rapid advance across the country, forced sweeping closure of schools, workplace and businesses with millions of people self-quarantine, Zoom has become a way of life.Anika had a plan to visit her mother in May, but now there is no hope to travel anywhere and God knows when. She pushes her chair back to stand up.

“Mom!”

Her daughter Sinchan stands at the door holding her coloring book. “ Are you going back to work tomorrow?”

Anika hugs her daughter. “ No, I will work from home. And you can play in my room. How come you are not in bed?”

“ I should color one more page before I sleep.” She replies sitting on the floor. “ Yesterday dad told me that coloring relaxes your brain and helps you to fall asleep.So you should color with me to take away your stress from work.”

Anika chuckles pulling her daughter closer. She doesn’t want to miss this opportunity to spend time with her daughter. Bonding is good! Who knows what will happen in this pandemic time! ““come! Let’s color together.” Sinchan opens her coloring book and the box of crayons. 

Next morning, Sinchan wakes up early. She has not seen her friends for a long long time! She counts with her fingers and nods. “It is a very long, long, trillion years! Yep, that is correct.” She walks into their living room and pulls a chair close to the front window. She climbs on a chair and opens the blind to check if any of her friends are there on the street. She finds a few cars parked outside. One black cat is crossing the road with her tail straight up in the air as a flag pole. Sinchan glances to the front yard of their neighbor. The old lady of the house is calling her dog Shi to come inside. Sinchan laughs as she watches Shi running around in the yard and tries to hide in the tall grass in her lawn. Shi does not want to go inside! “ I wish to play with Shi. Mom will not let me go anywhere except to walk with her on the trail. Then we have to wire the mask covering half of our face. I don’t  like it at all!” But her mom tells her dad that the face mask is like a special bar of gold and they laugh. Sinchan walks away from them. Suddenly, Sinchan’s eyes fall on a fat brown squirrel in her front yard. It is running down from the tree with two nuts in its mouth and stops at the middle and then runs faster. Sinchan tries to trace the squirrel. Her face is pressed flat on the glass of the window. “ Where did it go?” She could not find the squirrel and nor any of her friends. She climbs down from the chair. 

Sinchan decides to play with her imaginary friend Reema, a chimpanzee.She walks into her room and there on one side of the bed her friend is still sleeping. “ Good Morning Reema!” Sinchan pulls out the blanket from the top of Reema’s body. “ Wake up! Come,let’s play hide and seek.” Reema pulls the bed cover up to her chin and closes her eyes. 

“ Reema! Come! Let’s go outside and play!” Sinchan shouts. “We have so many nice hiding areas and you will love it!” She begs her friend to play standing at the doorstep.Reema somehow understands her,she stretches her hands up, yawns and slowly sits up on the bed. She climbs down from the bed and rushes to the bathroom to wash her face. Reema slams the door and  runs past Sinchan to their backyard. “ Now we will have tons of fun!” Sinchan follows her friend. Reema runs towards a big tree and hides behind it expecting Sinchan to look for her. Sinchan runs after her, giggling. It lasted for a while until they were bored. So they started a different game- Reema would dip a branch of the tree and Sinchan would jump. If she touches her feet, she wins. They are not keeping score, but are pretty happy.Once Reema gets tired of the game, she wouldn’t come down, only laughed and dropped leaves and twigs on Sinchan. Reema bounces off with her usual feckless joy and signs ‘ chase me’. Reema- she shouts. “ Come, let’s go inside and play something different.”Reema follows her friend.

Inside the house,Sinchan’s mother has almost done with reorganizing her closet. “ Hi, guys did you have lots of fun?” She asks folding a blue dress and arranging it nicely on a hanger.

“ Yes, mom” she replies leaning on to the bed. “ Now we are hungry, hungry like a hippo.”

Her mother laughs. “ Go first wash your hands, change the dress.And remember to count one to twenty while washing your hands.”

“ Mom, my hands will get very dry so I will count up to ten not twenty.” Sinchan says leaving the room.

“It has to be up to twenty dear!” When Sinchan comes out from the bathroom,her dad has switched on the TV to watch the current news. She doesn’t understand why her dad likes to watch the same stuff again and again- stuff on the crazy virus and people protesting on the streets to respect them and treat them equally. She runs to the sofa where her dad is sitting. “ Dad, remember that you watched this last night. Why don’t you watch a story, a happy one?” 

“We need to know what is going on in our city, in our country.” her dad says.

“ But if it is the same stuff going on,then we should watch something different.” Sinchan demands.

Her father switches off the TV,sends a few texts to his brothers and says,

” How about we play Mancala together?” Sinchan claps. “Yeah!”

Stranded

Nick is in his backyard, watering the tomato seedlings that he has just set out to harden before planting them in the garden. Big drops of rain are coming down, dropping the size of half-dollars. They slap the broad leaves of the maple tree, punch the mulch bags at one corner of the yard and clang against the watering can he set down on the deck.

“More rain,” his wife Sheela shakes her head and walks to the edge of the deck,loops her arms around a post and leans out into the rain.

“It’s fine, at least the weather will cool down a little.” Nick ducks back under the covered patio. He wipes the rain from his face with his blue handkerchief, and then folds  the handkerchief up and stuffs it back into his hip pocket. Their fourteen years old dog Quirky stops chasing the lizard and runs to the deck. She shakes the rain water from her body and leans against Sheela’s dress,hiding half of her face into it. She thinks somedays Sheela and Iwan do some type of evil game where thunder and rain appear from nowhere and Quirky has to hide herself either under the bed or in a corner of Iwan’s study room to protect herself.The wind is up now.Rain has scattered across the front part of the deck and three of them retreat toward the house.

Nick walks into the bathroom, pours a good amount of hand soap and  washes his hand singing ABC D.. Sheela laughs. “ It is scary, but at least people are listening,following the simple act of washing and bleaching their hands like Macbeth’s.” She looks at her own hands and sighs. “ My hands are already rashy from scrubbing, soaping and sanitizing.” She continues, “ I wonder how long we have to stay at home and work.” She moves the Time magazine from the top of the sofa to the coffee table and sits. Nick emerges from the bathroom, goes straight to his study room and comes back with his laptop. He sits on the sofa besides his wife. He tilts back and clasps his hands behind his head. “ This is just like a plague! But hopefully this crazy thing will be over in another week or two.Aggressive quarantine measures, when fully enforced, could choke the spread of the virus,that’s what the doctors are saying.” he says opening his laptop.

Sheela leaves the room and returns with a yellow notebook. “ Nick, listen! I know you have to work from home and I should do mine, but I would like to read something to cheer up our spirit.” she smiles standing in front of her husband. Nick nods his head and says carefully, “ Go ahead, but please make it shorter than the last one you recited- “ A Psalm of Life”, so that I will be able to start working on my project.”

 Sheela clears her throat. This one is called Daisy Time by Pickthall.

  “See, the grass is full of stars,Fallen in their brightness;

Hearts they have of shining gold,Rays of shining whiteness.

Buttercups have honeyed hearts,Bees they love the clover,

But I love the daisies’ dance,All the meadow over.

Blow, O blow, you happy winds,Singing summer’s praises,

Up the field and down the field,A-dancing with the daisies.”

Nick beams.“Really a very beautiful poem!” “Well, thanks for sharing.”

Sheela’s smile is openly delighted. “ This is my part of entertainment for us.Now I will go back to do my own thing.” Sheela walks into her living room and stands at a window. Out the window, she could see a lone boy in a yellow raincoat walking, his skateboard under his arm. It is hard to see his face clearly but he looks lost in thought,oblivious to his surroundings. She decides to call her daughter to check if she is doing okay. “ Hi Grace,how is your fever? Did you talks to your doctor?”

“ I will be a fine mom. And there is no testing here yet.Yesterday I had a little trouble breathing and the doctor asked me to get a small inhaler and to rest.”Grace sighs. “Not to worry mom,I will let you know if anything happens.” 

Sheela pulls an oak chair and sits down. “Are you still having chest pain? What is your temperature right now?” Nick hears his wife’s shrill voice and runs into the room. “ What’s the matter?”He asks nervously.

“Sheela puts her daughter in speakerphone. “Tell your dad everything that you told me.” she demands. Her daughter sighs! “ Guys,please calm down. I have taken tylenol and am working from home. Give me a few hours and I will call you back as soon as I am done with a conference call with my boss. Is that okay Mom?” she asks before hanging the phone. A tense silence falls in the room.

Sheela is getting a severe headache now.Iwan stands there quietly with his one arm on his wife’s shoulder. They don’t know what to say. 

Sheela is toying with her phone for a while and then decides to call her son.After the four rings, her son answers the phone.” Hi Mom! How are you?” he is breathing hard. Sheela pushes the chair and stands up straight. “I am fine. Why are you breathing so hard? Do you have temperature or cough?” 

“ Mom, I am fine. I was at home working for the last two days and today I decided to come to the trail for running.“He is still breathing hard but laughs.“ I am taking care of myself mom, so not to worry. How are you and dad?”

Sheela leans against the chair.” We are fine.I am home too, so decided to check on you. Go ahead, finish your run and call me back later.”

“ Mom, make sure not to go to any stores.If you need groceries, then call and order for delivery.” he continues with his sentence. “ I heard that according to both of your age, you will be more susepetible to corona virus, so stay indoors,wash your hands frequently. And mom, call me if you need anything. Bye!” he hangs the phone. Now a small reassuring smile plays on her lips to know that her son is fine.But, she has to wait to hear back from her daughter. Waiting is really hard! Nick Turns around to go back to his work. He stops at the door and turns his face towards his wife.She seems more worried. “ Sheela why don’t you go for a walk or do some writing or sketching.” 

“ I should.” she says.

Rain has stopped. Sheela takes her rain jacket and puts on her shoes for a walk.She has been walking for an half an hour, enjoying the greenery on both sides- all the trees with new baby leaves and pretty flowers of white redbud tree and eastern redbud tree. She comes to a bridge across a stream and stops to sit down for a while and starts to hike again. It starts to rain again. Avoiding the slippery wet rock lower down, she picks a route over high, turfed banks and sure enough, within minutes the sweat is pouring into her eyes along with the rain. She drinks from her water bottle and pushes on, taking advantage of the solitude. After five minutes of listening to the rain rattling on the fabric of her rain jacket, she climbs up.After a while the rain stops.  As the rain ceased and a long fissure in the cloud permitted a tiny consolation of diluted sunlight, it began to happen at last- she began to feel good. Perhaps it is no more than the effect of endorphins released by muscular exertion.

 On near level ground now, she strides across the  grass towards the track to return home.She pulls out a handkerchief and her cell phone from her jacket pocket. She stops in the middle of the trail to wipe her sweat. Then she checks her cellphone for any missed call but there is none. So she puts the phone back in her pocket and starts walking. She spots a dog,impossibly tiny Yorkies, two silky gold and blue-gray mops spinning across the trail and they look like her friend Jade’s dogs. They are upon her, bouncing up, their stubby tails wildly tick-tocking. The smaller dog places one paw on her shoe and turns his doll face upward. His nose is a shiny black triangle, and his eyelashes full of feathers. He gives Sheela a single decorous flick with his tongue.

“Lucy, Greta!” Jade comes running towards them and stops near Sheela. “ O’,I found them! Thanks Sheela! Did you know I was on the phone talking with my mom and suddenly they disappeared from my sight. I have been calling their names and looking under each bush and around the big trees to find them but all in vain.” She takes a big gulp of water from her water bottle and carries both of her dogs in her arms. Sheela says,crisply, with a toss of her head. “They are so so cute! And how is your mom doing? Is she still in Europe?”

Jade sits on a bench nearby holding her dogs. “ I was just talking with her. She is stuck there until she will be able to take a flight back.She is very worried, but nothing can be done at this point.” Jade replies wearily. Her eyes filled with tears.

 Sheela walks forward to give her friend a hug but she stops remembering the corona Virus.She should not touch her. “ Make a point to talk to her everyday, so that she will not feel alone or have anxiety attacks.” Sheela says. 

Jade sighs! “ That’s the only thing I could do now.So how are you?”

“Fine! Taking everyday as it comes.It is really nice to see you and I will call you sometimes to chat with you.”

“Sure.See you later” Sheela takes off from there.

*If you are stuck at home during this hard time then relax- Do a puzzle,Listen to music, write poetry or a haiku, play board games. 

Just like other hard times, this will also pass.

A day in Spring

Daisy lays in an elaborately carved rosewood bed in a hotel, in a small town in Bombay. A dazzling sunlight falls through the wood shutter. The first thing she sees is a slender lizard dash up the front wall. From the bathroom: splash, throat clearing, the slap of a towel, she knows that it is time to wake up and get ready to meet her new family, in a new country. She has decided to marry her law school sweetheart Arush and they are on their way to meet Arush’s parents.
It is early spring, but so hot in the cab that her cotton dress sticks to the seat and the driver drives hectically, one hand on the wheel through ramshackle town and potholed roads. After driving for an hour, on the edge of town, quite suddenly, they are in the most spectacular place she has ever seen: a dream of water, earth, and sky as bright green fields and gorgeously colored trees seem to float.
“Are you nervous?” Arush asks, at last acknowledging the momentous day ahead. “You will shortly disappear within my relatives and they will be very curious about you.”
“Not nervous,” Daisy lies. “Excited.” She is looking at a small boat adrift in a dazzling stretch of water. After ten minutes or so, down a dusty road lined with coconut trees, Arush grips her hand tightly.
“We’re less than a mile away,” he says. And in ten minutes, there it is: a small one-story house against a lush backdrop of trees, Arush exhales slowly. “This is it,” he let go of her hand. In the gap between the trees, there is half an acre of neatly planted vegetables. Three women weeding the vegetable patch straighten as they pass and give her a hard, bright stare and wave at Arush.
“Do they know you, Arush?”
“They do,” he says, waving them back, his whole expression brightens. The cab stops at the front gate. Through the gate is an immaculate graveled courtyard, its low walls covered in geranium, hibiscus plants. The whole house is framed by exuberant tropical trees and above it the bright blue sky, so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it. Daisy could hardly breathe, she is so nervous. A young girl in a pink long dress is standing on the front veranda, looking down at them. Her hand is over her mouth as if to stop herself screaming.
“ Maa, look brother is here.” Another lady opens the door and rushes down the steps and breaks into a stumbling run. Daisy hears a muffled sob as she stretches out her arms, a long string of words. Arush touches her feet and they match with an out pour of emotion.
“Maa,” he says, releasing her, “ I’d like you to meet Daisy, my friend. She is overly excited to meet you and dad.”
A shy smile covers Daisy’s face and she bends down on her waist to touch her feet just like Arush. Arush’s mother tidies the tears away with a quick, deft gesture and heads out a gracious hand.
“Welcome to our house,” she smiles with a gesture of welcome. Daisy follows them into the house through the huge veranda. Arush’s mother walks with them to show the bedroom. It is large, whitewashed room, furnished with two chairs and a wooden bed carved with fruits and birds, made up with a peach-colored sheet and thin looking pillows. On the front of a calendar on the wall, there is a beaming lady in an orange sari floating down the Ganges and advertising Horlick’s-it is good for you. Inside the air feels moist and heavy.
“Please freshen up and get ready to meet all our relatives and friends,” her mother-in-law says with a big smile.
Daisy opens her suitcase and pulls out a pant and a long kameez. Arush shows her the bathroom. The odd-looking room has a large copper cauldron of cool water in the corner for the bath. Above the bath, there is a shelf holding a bundle of twigs, and what Arush says are ayurvedic oils for hair and skin.
“ We’re often short of water in summer, so use accordingly and don’t drink it. I will ask the cook to boil water up later.” The lavatory, he says, is a short walk outside the house, next to the garden. “ Sure,” Daisy says wrapping her arms around him: her anchor in a shifting world.
“ They’re waiting for me, so let me go ahead and I’ll come back to get you.”
After half an hour of waiting, at the sound of a car horn, Daisy leaps to her feet and, through a bamboo blinds, watches her new family members arrive. A group of women steps out of the car, dressed in dazzling clothes in every color of the rainbow: emerald, ocher, gold, orange. They are chattering like jays, jiggling up and down on the spot as if they could barely contain themselves. The children explode from the car next, skipping across the courtyard. One after another hug Arush. A plump old lady waddle through the courtyard: mouth half-open, a little off center, walks toward the room, and then all follow her. They walk through the bedroom door to greet her with beaming smiles and perfect politeness. It is hard to listen as everybody talks at the same time. Arush asks Daisy to touch some of the elders’ feet and just hug to some of the younger ladies.They sit in the bedroom, some on the bed and some on the floor. Daisy has never seen so many people in one family. It is almost one o’ clock and a small boy comes running to announce that lunch is ready. It is a long hall, banana leaves are arranged on the floor. Daisy has her food in a china plate edged in gold, crystal glass, and spoon and fork.
“You must say grace, Arush,” her mother says, a deep emotional throb in her voice. Arush closes her eyes. “For these and all thy gifts, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen,” he mumbles. One of his sisters serves the food- elegantly spiced rice, lentil, creamy fish curry, sauteed okra, crisp fried pappadams.., each one giving off its own tantalizing aroma. Arush helps her in showing how to eat with her right hand. “Make your rice into a neat tight pile like this,” Arush’s mother says,” And put it in your mouth. It tastes better with lentils, a little curry sauce and there,” she smiles at her.
“Like this?” Everyone watched, fascinated, as Daisy feels a blob of bright sauce on her dress, half a handful of rice on her new pant.
“You’re doing fine,” one of the sisters says. After lunch, all of them sit in the veranda and introduce themselves to Daisy. And the tea party starts. One of the cousins prepares tea infused with cardamom, clove and brings out in batches of trays. The smell of the tea is heavenly. The laughter and their chatter fill the air. Daisy doesn’t understand the language, but she can feel their happiness and excitement. Through the mild peach-colored air of early evening, she could see some of Arush’s friends and uncles playing chess on one side of the veranda. And the sight of the- teacups on the floor, bare feet, dark heads bent together- is very comforting. The soft jasmine-scented breeze from the plants scrambles over their wall.
It is the tail end of dusk, some of the relatives get ready to return to their homes with the promise of coming back soon as her mother-in-law leaves to the prayer room. The smells of incense, the sound of conch and voice of prayer fill the evening air around them. “Life happens to you sometimes in strange ways, you can’t control it.”

Assumption

Assumption

The astrologer, a new age woman who sounds like the type to wear crystals and carry tarot cards, asserts that the people themselves have created the problem out of a need to get in touch with their places in the universe, their spiritual selves. The person standing next to her doesn’t agree. “ It is linked to spirituality, yes, but not the kind you speak of.” he shrugs his shoulder. “This is a wake up call for us. Soon we will be doomed.”

Megan returns from her morning walk and her way out of the trail she spots them at the side of road.Out of curiosity,Megan holds the dog leash tight in her hand and walks closer to check what is going on. On the edge of the narrow street, a pink bleeding heart, its soft fern like branches out stretched in five foot arcs. From the underside of each branch, the blossom dangle in perfect shape of hearts. It looks pretty big.The gentleman scratched his head. “We have a big problem!” He points at a seventeen foxglove Their blossom which ordinarily look like upside down thimble, large enough to find one’s thumb are now the size of small drinking cups. It is a strange sight, but without saying anything to them Megan nodded with a tiny smile and left. She thinks if God want to end the world, He should start from the regions that are notorious for sin. Well, all these may be totally superstitious.She could imagine the deep, measured voice of scientists, “ There is no evidence or real scientific explanation to these incidents.”

It is a pretty Saturday morning; bright and sunny! Her next door neighbor, Mrs Smith discovered something intoxicating. Megan waves at her as she is ready to open her front door of the house. She calls out, “Megan, have you seen these tulips?” She points at the plant.

Megan turns and walks into her front yard. She is standing next to a blossom that matches her in height and is roughly the same size as her head. Megan glances at it again.It is straight from a fairy tale; vines running here and there, foliage twisting around foliage, arching above the fence, the mailbox. And next to it, in a few feet the rose plant is almost dying. It used to be full of pretty white roses, but now the branches are deep brown and black, they are wilted and dry.Mrs Smith nodes in disbelief. She brushes her hair nervously from her face. “ Something strange is going on!” She wipes the sweat from her forehead. Humidity was hovering over. She continues. “It is a freak circus show! But clearly I think the universe is not happy at all.”

Megan glances at her face. “Why?”

Mrs Smith straightens her back and adjusts the straw-hat on her head. “ Soon something will happen, I can sense that.” She opens the cap of the water bottle and takes a few gulps. “This year it was not only Harvey, but so also so many devastating things going on around us!  Remember, how we use to see rabbit or a dog on the moon’s surface?” A deep sigh. “Yesterday,I noticed a completely different thing on the surface of the moon; A swiftly running lion, its mane flying backward with speed.It is terrible.”

Megan gives her a surprise look. But she does’t tell her anything. She must be watching the current news. Her dog started to pull, he is getting restless to go inside. It is the heat, gathering around tightly. A pregnant pause. “Mrs. Smith, it may be a mixed signal. There is always a mixture of both good and evil. We will be alright. Don’t you worry! Lucky is getting impatient so I had to go. Take care.” Megan leaves.  

That evening, she walked out to the deck still thinking about what Mrs Smith told her in the morning. Lucky follows her behind, waging his long bushy tail. Megan lifts her eyes to the sky. The face of the moon looks like the profile of a majestic woman. She could see her pointed chin, her salient brow, bright, omniscient eyes, nothing else.Megan smiled. The moon looks perfect to her eyes. This is so crazy! We are the silly, silly people.

On a rainy Wednesday morning, Megan has a strong sense of loss over something after a nasty stomach flu . A stab of Pain courses through abdomen and down her groin and she decides to visit the doctor. She is lying on a table counting ceiling tiles, when the doctor, a robust man in his mid fifties with dark hair, dramatically removes his glasses and tells her the facts. He kindly points at the telltale bean shape on the x-rays and says it is the kidney problem,and we have to do more tests. She feels like crying while she fills the saucepan with water and dumps the oatmeal for her husband, she sobs while moving her pots of marigold, each one just on the threshold of blooming, to the front porch.  She scrubs the whole kitchen counters, cleans all the drawers, she vacuums every floor of the house,knowing full well, too, that her husband would repeat the task.She wipes her tears and watches her daughter dancing around the room on her tiptoes, pretending to be a ballerina. She reads her favourite stories and colors with her sitting on the living room floor.After tons of x rays and doctor visits, she was lying on the hospital table eyes closed, cold and unmoved as bookends when she suddenly notices a smile on the doctor’s face that appeared at the end of his sentence. “Well, the good news is that you appear to be pregnant.” She kept her eyes closed, because behind them she could see what the doctor must be seeing on the screen: a shape, a pulse.

 

A few lovely things in Life

Almost

Can you believe this! Anne leans closer to the cold window and looks at the front yard. All the trees, mailbox, lawn are covered with snow and it is almost seven-foot of snow.

“ I am telling you it is global warming. It may be a fake news or not a science after all for our president but it is the reality.” The nature suddenly has awaken form its torpor and unleashes the worst snowstorm in living memory. O’my! She is cursing the cold in her small,old,one story brick house. They get snow every winter but not type of Siberian winter which has struck Erie, Pennsylvania in error. Snow is always pristine from distance. Her basement, largely below street level and has poor heating. Snow is alway a nightmare. But Anne loves to do her morning yoga and meditation there. The frost-covered glass impedes light from entering through the small window and the inside gloom is hardly dispelled by the naked bulbs dangling from the ceiling. The basement has only the essentials; one long beige colored sofa, a thick oriental rug to cover the floor and a small wooden table with two chairs on both sides. Anne has her yoga mat, exercise balls and barbels in one corner of the room. She loves the quietness of the room.

The storm begins on Wednesday with a heavy snowfall followed by a fierce squall that lashes the streets. The forces of wind causes trees to bend and freezing weather kill many birds who has forgotten to migrate, fooled by the previous month’s warmth. A state of emergency is declared. Most of the offices, library and a few department stores are closed, although it would have been an adventure to visit the stores for Christmas shopping or to buy something special for the New Year’s eve party. Anne does not have to go to the university, so she takes the advantage of unexpected freedom to decorate her house elaborately for the upcoming New year’s eve party. She has arranged all her beautiful collection of clocks on the mantel as a countdown decor, has folded colored paper cubes to make decorative strings of lights, has taped giant confetti to her bare stone wall in the front living room.

“ Hopefully, all our family members and friends will make to the party.” She opens the thick wooden blinds from the window and glances outside. It is still snowing. The two tall red pine trees in the front yard of her neighbor’s house are almost covered in snow. She spots their puddle running around in the snow wagging her small black tail.Anne hears her husband Richard’s footsteps in the kitchen.

“ Good morning! You have already started baking!Let me know if you need any help.” he turns round and opens the back door to let the dog out. “Wow! Look at the snow! And it is still snowing! It is like the North Pole in here.” The bitterly cold wind fills the kitchen. He comes back into the kitchen closing the door. “ For the love of God, turn the heating up, don’t be so stingy.” Richard increases the thermostat and returns to the kitchen . “ A hot cup of strong coffee will do miracle.”  Richard makes coffee and takes a sip. “ This is wonderful! He walks towards the kitchen window and glances outside towards the snow.

“ I am not sure if guests will be able to drive here. Look at the snow fall.”

“ Let’s keep our finger crossed.”

“ I have an idea. We should prepare some healthy stuff for this party. Like sautéed Brussels sprout,avocado salad roll ups, Stuffed mushroom with feta cheese, garlic.”

“ We have most of the items and let’s go through the list first before adding up more items. I have already made green pea soup with carrot and celery, Mexican spicy corn bread and zucchini chips.”

“ That sounds wonderful. Hey, do you remember that tonight is Nora’s performance in  Warner?”

“ Yes, I do and we will try to make, it but we have to check if the theater will open tonight.”

Anne leaves the room to get her cell phone and confirms that it will open just one hour before the play starts.

Nora is Anne’s adopted daughter. She was five years old when they adopted her.She is the best gift in Anne’s life. Anne had all the fun with Nora helping her in homework, making school projects, playing Barbie, building legos, riding bicycle. Nora has given her the happiness that she will never find anywhere else in life. Nora is always gets lost in the maze of a feverish imagination and boundless curiosity, constantly wearing her heart on her sleeve, weeping for suffering humanity and mistreated animals. Anne has helped Nora several times in rescuing animals. And Nora always love to act. She has worked in school dramas, college plays. Theater arts is her favorite subject. Tonight, seventeen years old Nora plays the role of Mary and Nick her best friend, plays the role of gorgeous George of the story “It is a wonderful life”- a Christmas comedy-drama  based on the short story ‘The Greatest Gift’. “ In the story,they are both optimistic,innocent idealistic. George dreams big and is driven by a thirst of adventure. But he sometimes misses the truth what is right in front of him that Mary, the prettiest girl in town, is destined to be the great love of his life. Nora loves the story because it teaches loyalty and devotion. George Bailey is the poster boy for loyalty. He is epical loyal to his family, his business and to Bedford Falls. While they are practicing in the back stage Nora suddenly stops.

“Come on bring the words to life and give them more emotion.”

“Fancy talk. I don’t know how to.”

“Imagine that you are telling a story to a friend and he wants to know every detail of the story.  You should tell with some emotion, more details.”

Nick nods.

Richard gets out of the house and shovels and tries his best to clear the snow from their driveway. Around five in the evening they set off in their Lexus, travelling twelve miles until they reach downtown theater district.The road is slippery and hard to drive. The car headlights reveals a desolate cityscape as Richard drives cautiously, peering out through the semicircle free of frost on the windshield.The streets seems like those of an unknown city; for a minute her thinks he is lost,even though he has taken the route so many times before. Time seems at a standstill. The hum of the heating blower and the relentless back and forth motion of the windshield wipers give the impression that the car is suspended in a heavy fog. Anne from the passenger sit sighs.

“It is so dark! Drive slowly. The roads are so slippery!” Anne turns her face towards Richard.  “  It is only for Nora’s sake that we are coming. We can not see her sad.”

“ I understand. Don’t worry.” He concentrates in driving.

It is almost six thirty when they reach at the theatre. The parking lot is full.

“It is surprising to see all these cars!”

The decoration inside the building is mesmerizing! The room is full, instead of roadblocks and snow storm. The whole family took the front row straight across.The show is a huge hit. Anne hugs Nora after her performance. Nora looks very pretty with broad shoulders, a long neck and sparkling, spinach colored eyes. Her strapless blue chiffon dress with narrow chiffon ruffle neckline is breathtaking.

“ Both of you did  such a wonderful job! We loved your acting!”

“Thank you mom. I am glad that everybody came to see the play in this severe weather.”

“ This is your first performance on stage and we could not miss that. I can say confidently that It will be a promising new year for you.” Anne laughs hugging Nora.

 

 

 

 

Life from different angles

Inhabit

Her quiet and lonely life  has lasted for almost a year. One foggy week goes by, then another. One silent evening is followed by another silent evening. One cloudy day, after visiting the last patient, Liz drives to a nearby town to meet her friend Mei, a writer. Mei opens the front door holding the I-pad in one hand. A warm smile flashes on her small round face.

” Liz! After a long time! It is so nice to see you. Come in.” She closes the door from behind  and Liz takes off her shoes before walking into the living room. On the rectangle coffee table there are magazines and books are in a big pile. A few candles on one small table in one corner of the room. As Liz sits on the beige couch, Mei glances at her face.

” How are you Liz? I tried to call you so many times and even e-mailed you but I never received any reply! You need to let it go and move on with life.” Mei touches her shoulders.

” It is not that easy, not at all. But I am keeping myself busy in the clinic.” Liz replies slightly touching her ring then she pauses. ” How is your Novel coming?”

Mei brings the i-pad  and opens the goggle drive. She lets her friend read the story while she walks into the kitchen to prepare some tea, something to calm her friend. It is a pretty long story. Mei is almost forty and has been working on the novel for the two years now. she is a great believer in revision and revises each section on the novel six or eight times before she goes to the next chapter. Each time Liz comes, she reads hundred pages more. In many respects it reminds her of Henry’s screenplays. In one sentence the story might leap thirty years ahead and then in the next leap sideways two thousand miles across. But she loves to read her friend’s novel. Mei comes back to the room holding a small tray with two beautiful floral tea cups.

“This will help you relax.” Liz lifts the cup. The aroma of the tea wraps her as she sips the tea. Mei takes the I-Pad and starts to read her own story for a minute or two. She turns her head towards Liz and starts to talk on editing her story.  She concentrates more on her writing. After an hour or two of flipping a few magazines and reading the new edited lines of Mei’s story,Liz decides to leave.

” It is not nine yet. Stay a little longer and I will be done soon. Afterwards we can talk and watch a movie together.”

” It is fine Mei. But I have to leave. Tomorrow I have two meetings between eight to ten in the morning. Good night!” they hug each other.

After one week,on a partly sunny day, just after the announcement of a upcoming hurricane, Liz flies to Chicago to meet her friend Adel, a wonderful artist and her college friend. It is late afternoon when Liz reaches in Adel’s house. They sit in his dining room and talk for a while touching different events of their lives. On the table lay one or two sketch pads, sketch pens and a few almost completed sketches on one side of the table.

“The light is fine today,” he says “It seems to melt a little around the point where the water met with sand. Not at all like yesterday.”

“It was too bright Yesterday?”

She grimaces. “Too flat?”

” How is your clinic and the new patient?” Adel asks.

” It is very busy in the clinic and the new patient is getting stronger. she is seventy five but the surgery went well.”

Liz appreciates him as a kind and thoughtful man but does not like him when he is totally engrossed in his art! Liz leans over from her chair and touches his arm, and he stops sketching the dog until she moves her hand away.

” I came to see you after a long time and instead of talking to me you are concentrating on your sketch.”

” Sorry!” he says lifting his eyes from the sketch, then he frowns on the dog. ” I haven’t figured out the light,” he says. ” If I can’t understand simple light, forget about the stone sculptures.”

“It is the same light wherever you are, only your angle changes.” She shifts her chair closer. One of the cook places two cups of coffee between them on the table.

” We are good friends,” she says.

“Indeed, you are welcome to stay here in my home until you decide something else to do.”

Thank You for the invitation but I am needed in the clinic. I can’t leave it in short notice.”

Adel gives a short laugh that sounds precisely like the first abrupt sounds of a boiling kettle. ” You need someone to be with you and about the clinic. you can open one here and start your practice.”

Liz is surprised. ” It is not that easy to close one and open another in a completely different city. ” She glances at his face. ” Also what is the point of moving here? I will be busy in the clinic and you will never have time to spend.”

Adel sketches an errant line in the  dog’s tail and rubs it with his thumb. Then he stops.

” We are friend Liz. I will stand by you and give you company whenever you need. You have to make a decision. You have to be brave like Jules Verne who went twenty thousand leagues in search of the vastness of the sea.” He tosses his head back. “It is impossible for you to understand.”

” Now a days I stand alone in the early morning hours, where there are no foot prints besides my own behind me and I can feel a stark of emptiness in my heart. I understand everything very well.” Liz reaches right over and takes a sip of the hot coffee. Adel shakes his head and looks at Liz. ” He is gone Liz. You need to get over it and start a new life. I am serious.”

Liz glances at him. He starts to fidget with the sketch book like a young boy in school. She wonders how long she would have to sit with him before she could reasonably escape. Liz thinks of all the people she has met. She wouldn’t miss any of them and none of them would spend even a moment wondering of they would miss her. Each of them would fade in the other’s mind like paper dolls in a sunny window.

Stand Tall

Blossom

One bright Saturday morning, just after breakfast Isaac drives to a nearby mall in a rundown car with his father. He sits in the front seat, behind the rustiest door. It is fun to drive with his dad. He loves how the tires float sideways in the wet road or when his dad honks the horn. It sounds like the Sesame street blue monster bopping its nose. The mall is full of people and on each door of the store it says “Don’t miss the Father’s day sale”. He takes a sip from the  grape juice bottle as his dad takes him to the glass elevator. “ So dad, I wonder if all these people are buying gifts for their dad. If you say yes, then I should buy something for you. Right?”

Isaac’s father pulls him to one safe corner inside the elevator and adjusts the small front pocket on his son’s faded blue t-shirt. “ May be they are shopping for father’s day or they may be going to watch movie. Remember the school is out for summer. But you do not have to worry on that. We are here to enjoy our day together and that is the best gift.”

“ I agree dad.”  He concentrates on his ride in the elevator with glass walls. He feels as if he sails into the enormous blue sky like Superman. Below him, all the people has turned into moving dots.He feels tall and brave.The elevator stops and as he pushes himself out his father stops him from behind. “ Isaac! Wait for your turn. I always remind you to follow the Rules. Rules are extremely important and more exact the better.”
“ Sorry dad.”

After the mall, they visit a friend’s house who lives in a few blocks from the mall. Their house resembles a stack of beige rectangles. The rectangles are brick and they glistened after it rains. Though they look delicious, he is not supposed to taste them.That is the rule. Sometimes when he gets crazy, he licks the wall. His friend calls him retarded and his dad abruptly pulls the chair back. “ He is tired from the long hours in the mall that is all. I better take him home.”  They return home quietly; his father concentrates on the wheel and Isaac looks at the puffy white clouds and the tiny birds up in the sky.

Around six in the evening Isaac plays with his bright yellow toy train on the front porch, while his father reads a newspaper sitting on the stair. The battery of the train stops working and his toy train stops in the middle of the first round.Issac kicks the train and it hits the wall and flips. He tries hard to fix it but could not. His father closes the newspaper and looks at him.
“ Don’t be so harsh on others.”

“ Sorry dad, it will not happen again, but at the same time I do not like the way the train behaves!”

“ Have a little patience!” He sits with Isaac and helps him putting the pieces together with lots of patience. 

After dinner Isaac brings out all his rocks from a big plastic box, and spreads them on the floor. This his collection from all the national parks that he has visited with his father.Once a week, he washes and dries his rocks. Sometimes he colors them to make them brighter and happier. He feels himself as the Superman of the lifeless objects.

At the second week of August, Issac starts the middle school. His Psychiatrist has guaranteed that he is normal now.In last visit, the psychiatrist, a tall, skinny, gray-haired man Dr.Robertson asked him. “ Do you want to draw a road runner looking at the picture, while I do the tests? Or you can color it. Whichever one you like. Go ahead.”

Isaac did, he is good with eyes but with bodies! Not that much. His road runner looks like feather duster attached to a gardening rake. And now he goes to school. In the school playground he meets his old school friend Ron. He always boss him around or clearly bullies him; he kicks his desk, snaps his pencil in two, sometimes eats his lunch, bumps him from behind in the recess line. But Isaac does not how to respond so he stays quiet, does not say a word.

That afternoon it rains. The parking lot reflects the sky from a thousand puddles. His father comes to pick him after school. As Isaac walks into the house, he notices that the brick of his house is dyed dark with water. They are stacked together like crispy double vanilla sugar wafers. But he does not want to lick the brick anymore. He follows dad’s rule; no tasting the bricks. That night before, bed Issac draws a spectacular rainbow with his father, sitting on the wooden floor of the living room. And the rainbow has only his favorite colors; Blue, orange and yellow.He dreams he is riding the glass elevator into the space. The earth disappears beneath  the clouds and a billion stars. His dad says, “ You are a superhero, do you know that? “ A big  delightful smile beams on Isaac’s face.

It is a cloudless day in early summer. A few cardinals are chasing each other in the back yard through the magnolia branches. A gray squirrel is busy eating nuts. Isaac sits close to the big glass window in the dining room and eats his lucky charms in a bowl of milk.He could see the planes drawing white chalk lines in the sky. After the school, his father looks at his tired face and bruises on his hand. “ Is it Ron?”

Isaac does not reply.

“ It is time I would like to teach you how to defend yourself, son!”

The wind is moving across the yard, swirling. The leaves on the grass are all glossy and speckled. They keep lifting onto their edges then slowly toppling over. That is when his father starts to teach him to punch,how to do back kick and front kick.

Next day the a substitute teacher comes to the class; a tall, skinny young man. He allows the class to vote on everything instead of taking his own decision: “ What would you like to study next: science or history? All in favor of eating in class, raise your arms.” It is a mess. No One listens to him. As the substitute teacher leaves the classroom for lunch, the students end up eating in the class except Isaac. As Isaac opens his lunch box, Ron comes, snatches his sandwich. It falls on the floor. The whole class turn and watch but no one says a thing. During recess in the late afternoon, Isaac spots Ron on a tower. He approaches the tower and climbs the ladder. It seems as if he is riding the glass elevator. He feels tall and powerful, he rises into the clear blue sky like a superhero.Ron stands at the platform’s open edge. Isaac runs towards him and shoves him. His body hits the ground, nothing happens except a few bruises. But the principal punishes him with weeks of suspension. During the car ride from school,his father drives quietly. Isaac turns his face towards him. “It may be very wrong dad, but I had to do this. He bullies me all the time and it hurts me. I am trying to stand for myself.”

 

Her memory

Blur

Every hour a thought floats to the surface. If we’re all going to end up happy together in Heaven then why does anyone wait? A big sadness hangs behind her ribs, sharp and gleaming, and it’s all she can do to keep breathing. She does not know the reason but one early morning she had to fly to her grandfather’s house with her dog Luke. She never goes anywhere without her parents! Her grandfather’s house is long and narrow, like a train  and it has five bedrooms: a big living room in the front, a rectangle kitchen, a prayer room, one study room and other two are bedrooms.  The windows are all the same but the color and the pattern of  lacy curtains are different in each one.Grand father hugged her in the middle of a sentence and there are tears on his cheeks. “ Are you okay?” Riana asks with deep concern in her eyes.

“ Yes, now that you are here everything will be fine.” He replies. He says that there was a time when all the houses were a collective farm and grandmother used to walk everyday to work in a chemical plant. She was a brave woman. Now she has to be hooked up to her oxygen machine every night. “ It must be the chemicals!” He says with a heavy sigh. It is cancer. First they found it in my mom, then in dad in his lungs. She imagines cancer as a tree: big, black, leafless nasty tree which took her parent’s lives. Riana walked into her grandmother’s room to meet her. Her face resembles a lot with her mother. “ Hello grandma!”

She smiles and asks her to sit on her bed. “How are you young woman? It is so nice to see you here. Make yourself home and feel free to ask if you need anything. Your grandpa will help you.” “Thank you grandma.”

In the afternoon Riana stands on the front porch.Out side she can hear the little white butterflies are looping through the willows, the grasshoppers chewing the leaves.

“God made the world and everything in it.” says her grandfather. Riana thinks, then why isn’t everything perfect? She wants her parents back in her life. Up in the sky she sees her dad sipping coffee and watching the evening news and her mother reading a book leaning on the couch. Their cat is taking a nap on a piece of  old newspaper. It is not that blurry at all.

“ Tell me about my mom.” Riana asks her grandmother sitting on her bed. She glances over and then her eyes are a thousand miles away. She tells all trips down the river in boat, fun days of picnics in the park,  time that they spent in the swing set reading stories together. Suddenly she pauses and closes her eyelids. Riana understands and leaves the room quietly.

Oné rainy day,when she was five something happened to her. Her mother called the family physician and she put some drops in her eyes. Pretty soon all Riana could see are blurs and colors.Dad was a fog a mom was a smudge and world looked like it does when your eyes are full of tears. A couple of hours later, right when she was riding in the back seat of mom’s car, the world started coming back to focus. She could see the trees, the leaves more clearly dark on the top and pale on the undersides, are moving independently but still in concert with others.

Almost everyday she misses her parents; mom walking into the grocery store holding her hand or to the library picking books for her and the bicycle ride and story time with her dad.Sometimes in the silence she feels her mom, together with her, under the beautiful sun, both of with decades to live.

Her grandfather does not believe her. He sits on the edge of his bed, elbows on the small table with droopy eyes and broken blood vessels in his cheeks. He wipes his eyes and tells her that she needs read more books and start thinking about school. Riana stands close to her grandfather. “You don’t believe in anything that you can not see or feel? I believe in souls and I feel my mother on my side. Even I see her and dad sitting on the puffy cloud” Riana says angrily and leaves the room.

That night she lays in her bed with her grandmother. The unpainted plaster of the wall slowly cracking all around her. She tries to remember a sentence mom or dad said but everything seem so blurry!

Twists of Fate

Unseen

It is the weekend after the Spring break. Emmylou and her father are having breakfast. She probably should sit facing her father and not the window so he would not have to compete with the diversions outside a few kids riding their bikes, an older woman is playing with her tiny Affenpinscher dog in her front yard, the construction that is going on at the end of the cul-de-sac, two squirrels scampering through the trees. They would have to wait  for her father to finish talking about miracles.

Her father believes in those things and in grand schemes God, religion and her.A few years ago, in November, Emmylou had a car accident. There had been intermittent  freezing rain, her car slipped and hit a truck.

Her father asks taking a sip from his hot coffee. “It is unbelievable! And I am thankful to God for protecting you.” He continues, “ There is one woman runs a wildlife charity, would you like to volunteer there? Try, you may like it.” He hands her a newspaper classified.

Emmylou has made it through high school and one year of college before the car accident. She is that kid, who moves sideways, lags behind, forgets her buddy in the partner system and loses the group. She has read a report from neuropsychologist that her executive function is severely impaired due to frontal-lobe injury.

“ So,” her father says. “ Are you ready for the interview?”

Emmylou takes a long deep breath and takes a sip from her herbal tea. Art and crafts she could do well or if she could find a job that allows her to play all day, that could have been perfect. The job search has been an integral piece of their morning routine for last two years. It is a complex exchange full of limited expectations, consistent disappointment.

Her father kisses the crown of her forehead on his way out and she watches his car fades beyond the driveway.

Emmylou walks into the kitchen.On the stainless steel refrigerator door there are a few faded magnets of wonder woman, ‘ I can do it’ and ‘Believe in yourself’ that her mother made infused with her strong believes. She passed away in cancer leaving Emmylou. Emmylou misses her mother her love and the time that they spent together.She wiped her tears and  looks to the other side of the refrigerator door.There is a long note from her father.

1.Take pills.  Pills to stabilize her mood, even if each one has a side effect that thins her hair and slows her metabolism.

  1. Feed Angel.  Angel is her cat. She is eleven years old tabby, has a shiny coat,mild arrogance, lots of stubbornness and a huge appetite.
  2. Shower and dress.  Clearly later. May be she could go back to sleep again or after one more cup of herbal tea.
  3. Find clothes for the interview.  Emmylou walks into her room. Clothes are everywhere spilling from the closet, exploding out of the chest of drawers, on the floor mingled with cat hair and dust.Folding requires fine motor skills and she does not have them. Her hands are weak and she can not fold them properly. She finds one black skirt in the back of the closet and one blue silk blouse which need ironing. She has to wait on that.
  4. Think about cleaning your room.Really!!

Emmylou looks around. Reams of papers are scattered everywhere, used art supplies on the desks. By the end of week her room is a colossal accumulation of socks, broken pencils, books and magazines.Every cleaning crew that her father has ever sent over, refused to work unless she could first get her room into “ manageable” shape, a concept which she does not know. “Sure I will try cleaning the room but in my way.” Emmylou mumbles.

The rest of the day goes fine. After shower,she watches a documentary on elephants,on polar bears, on climate change. Then she sits by the window sill and watches outside A spotted squirrel focuses on an acorn. Emmylou grabs her sketch pad.The squirrel is holding the nut in his tiny hands, gnawing on it pieces by pieces. She imagines his determination which pulses through her pencil creatively. She is almost done with her picture when her dad returns home.

Today her father has brought Chinese food for dinner so that they do not have to cook. He hands her a fortune cookie from the bag. “Open it.”

Emmylou opens it. “ Door will be opening for you.” it says.

“You see?” her dad says with a big grin. “ You never know what life will bring.”

Emmylou rolls her eyes. “You are taking a fortune cookie to heart?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” he says. “ The cookie knows.Tomorrow we will go together to the nature center, you will feed the ducks and approach the owner for the interview. And the door will open for you. You love to take care of the animals and this will be a perfect opportunity for you.” There is confidence in his voice and Emmylou is excited.

New Year

Year

It is almost midnight. Daphne pulls out her journal, not the old one but a brand new one in shiny cover. A precious Christmas gift from her daughter. In that journal every page starts with a unique quotes. Yes, this is perfect! She opens the first page to write her New Year’s resolutions. The whole situation plays like a movie. Imagine that you are the main character either in a movie or in a book and you wish to do some things. Suddenly towards the end of the story boom!All your wishes are granted. Just like that Daphne smiles as she starts to write the resolutions one after another and feels as if they are almost in her fingertips. It is no doubt that she is very determined and she may be successful. She pauses, her fingers caress her pointed chin,and then opens the old journal. There is a heavy sigh. She checks all her last year’s goals – she has achieved some of her resolutions in writing posts on refugee crisis, on women’s issues and on poverty.Then she wanted to do more volunteer work which she has not done in this year. The other important aspect is her health.Well, she goes to the gym regularly which is perfect although she ends up in the classes like kickboxing, RIPP instead of yoga or spinning. Daphne is head strong but her weakness is the sweet. This Christmas she went to the store to buy gifts. She had the list but strange thing happens as she steps into the store, mostly in the aisle with chocolates and cookies. So that day she returned with gifts and two big boxes of chocolates. She nodded her head in disbelief and the chocolate lasted only for a week At the end of the week the boxes were neat and clean like brand new boxes and ready to be recycled.The exercise will help you thirty percent but diet is the other seventy percent to be healthy that is her  doctor’s prescription. 

Daphne stops writing and leans against the cushion. There is silence in the room and it is so quiet that you can hear the hum of the refrigerator. A sudden brightness flashes on her face.  “Not to worry.”She adjusts herself on the chair more comfortably and opens the new journal again. “ I will start all over again.This year I will not get any sweets, sign up for more volunteer program and practice mindful meditation.” A big challenging smile plays on her lips. 

Daphne stretches her legs, then crosses her legs and opens the new journal.As she bends down to write the inner window in her mind pops open. “ Are you sure that your goals are realistic? You do not want to write them and forget as the days pass by. Are you??”

A deep sigh again. She sits with both elbows on the desk, rubs her forehead and sits with both hands on each side of her face.

Making resolutions at the start of the New Year is like the season for orange or blue berry. Everyday would be filled with false starts and high ambitions. She might even make a lots of progress towards the goal but ultimately she would always give up before reaching the goal. Daphne has a high hope that everything will turn around perfect in this year. She has to do something different. The entire New year resolution phenomenon essentially boils down to habit-making and habits are built over time. Her job is to contribute a bit each and every day until the habits are built. Daphne sits straight. Now her face is brightly illuminated with a strong hope and determination.

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